People are all different — so does that mean that your blood pressure goals differ from someone else's because of age or height or gender? The quick answer: No matter your size or age or gender, a "normal" blood pressure definition is the same for all adults. Of course, it's not quite that simple.
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Read more: What Is Blood Pressure, Exactly?
Blood Pressure Diagnoses
Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood as it's pushed through blood vessels. In 2017, 11 health organizations — including the American Heart Association (AHA) — agreed on new definitions for normal and abnormal blood pressure levels. They're the same for both men and women, and they don't differ by weight, height or age.
Experts agree that "normal" blood pressure for all adults is less than 120 millimeters of mercury, or mm Hg, (the unit used in medicine to denote this pressure).
That means the first or upper number in the reading, called the systolic pressure, should be lower than 120. The second or lower number, known as the diastolic reading, should be lower than 80. (The systolic number represents the force used by your heart to push blood through your body by beating, and the diastolic number measures the force when your heart contracts between beats. The AHA further details each blood pressure category as follows:
- If the upper reading is between 120 and 129, while the lower reading is under 80, you're considered to have "elevated" blood pressure.
- If your upper reading is between 130 and 139 and the lower reading is between 80 and 89, you're in Stage 1 of high blood pressure.
- The next level, Stage 2, is defined as upper
readings of 140 or higher or lower readings of 90 or higher.
"Hypertensive crisis," though rare, occurs when the upper reading is higher than 180 and/or the lower reading is higher than 120. In such an instance, emergency support should be contacted right away.
Men and High Blood Pressure
Both high and low blood pressure are potential signs that the cardiovascular system isn't working properly. High blood pressure (hypertension, in medical terminology) is common. It often indicates that the heart is working harder because blood vessels are clogged, according to the AHA.
An estimated 47 percent of men in the U.S. have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with 43 percent of women.
"In general, men are at greater risk of hypertension than women, but only until women reach menopause … when women begin to catch up," says cardiologist Michael Miller, MD, a professor of cardiovascular medicine, epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Read more: Blood Pressure Readings When You're Over 70
According to Dr. Miller, he has seen that men are more likely than women to ignore high blood pressure and fail to follow through with recommended treatment. However, he notes, "The good news is that men's blood pressure is commonly well-controlled when they follow lifestyle instructions and take their blood-pressure-lowering medications."
Common strategies to reduce high blood pressure include weight loss, exercise and medication, according to the AHA. Work with your doctor to develop an individualized plan to alleviate hypertension.
What About Low Blood Pressure?
In some cases, medications designed to lower blood pressure can bring it down to an unhealthy range. However, there's no universally defined level for abnormally low blood pressure. According to the AHA, the important factor in determining whether your blood pressure is too low is whether you have symptoms of low blood pressure, which could include fainting, dizziness, nausea and dehydration (which may cause low blood pressure itself).
According to Dr. Miller, it's important to understand that older people can experience symptoms of low blood pressure at higher levels than when they were younger.
"We need to be careful in men and women who are around 80 or older and have been living at a systolic blood pressure of 150 to 160 mm Hg," Dr. Miller says. "If we drop blood pressure too low for that person, that might compromise blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke. In these situations, the goal would be a more modest reduction, to around 130 to 140 mm Hg."
Therefore, although the ideal or "normal" BP level is the same for all, older individuals may feel differently at different levels. Always see your doctor for individualized monitoring and treatment.
- Michael Miller, MD, professor, cardiovascular medicine, epidemiology and public health, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore
- American Heart Association: “Changes You Can Make to Manage High Blood Pressure”
- American Heart Association: “How High Blood Pressure Can Lead to Heart Failure”
- American Heart Association: “Understanding Blood Pressure Readings”
- American Heart Association: “Low Blood Pressure - When Blood Pressure Is Too Low”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Facts About Hypertension”